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Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from Subiaco Oval

After their exciting defeat of top team St Kilda in Round 20, all that stood between Essendon and a guaranteed finish in the Final Eight was a trip west to Subiaco Oval and a win over the Fremantle Dockers. The equation was simple: beat Fremantle and play Finals football. The Dockers came into the match battle-scarred after a 63 point thrashing by bottom team Melbourne. Although many expected Fremantle to bounce back in an effort to redeem their sorry season, the high stakes for Essendon made it hard to imagine the Bombers would let this golden opportunity slip through their fingers.

It was a tight contest in the first quarter but with Patrick Ryder omitted from the team through injury, Essendon was without a genuine ruckman. Aaron Sandilands has been in fantastic touch all year and the Dockers held a clear ascendancy in the clearances. Signs were ominous early that it was the good Fremantle which had come to play. Matthew Pavlich, Des Headland and Nick Suban had plenty of the football and Clancee Pearce and Hayden Ballantyne provided reliable targets up front. For the Bombers, Jobe Watson and Jay Neagle were in good form and Alwyn Davey and Nathan Lovett-Murray looked dangerous. Scores were level at 20 points apiece when Luke McPharlin marked in the forward fifty and kicked a goal on the siren to take Fremantle into the break with a one goal lead.

Essendon struggled to find a target in the forward line in the second quarter and Fremantle started to pull away on the scoreboard. Long goals to Paul Duffield and Kepler Bradley inspired the Dockers and the Bombers looked shell-shocked as the lead spiralled out to 27 points. Essendon players were fumbling and not chasing hard enough particularly in their forward line which Fremantle defenders used continuously as a springboard to attack. The Bombers' style of play was indirect and inefficient and they had no answer to the complete dominance of Sandilands at center bounces and stoppages.

Not only did Fremantle players kick some excellent goals in the third quarter but their skill level, decision-making and speed at the ball were better than those of the Bombers, many of whom were noticeably down on form. Perhaps their nail-biting finish against St Kilda had left them mentally and physically drained, but it was a disappointing performance given what was at stake. At the final break the margin was 49 points and nothing short of a miracle could save the Bombers.

A miracle looked possible when the Bombers scored the opening three goals of the final quarter but their comeback was short-lived. Pavlich showed his brilliance to kick a steadying goal while being tackled and from then on the result was never in doubt. Both teams played hard until the final siren but Fremantle's desperation and desire were far superior to Essendon's all day and they ran out very comfortable 54 point winners.

While the Dockers recovered some of their football mojo with this excellent display of team football, questions must be asked. Why have they not been able to produce this level of commitment more consistently over the course of the season? Why is their winning record so poor away from Subiaco Oval? The positive going forward is the tremendous young talent the club has unearthed, a group of outstanding young footballers who will form the nucleus of the Fremantle team for the next decade.

As for the Bombers, this defeat has turned their Round 22 clash with Hawthorn into a virtual Elimination Final for eighth position on the AFL Ladder. To add even more excitement and anticipation to the mix, the composition of the Top Four will also depend on the outcome of games in Round 22. We are heading into a dream finale to the 2009 AFL home and away season.

Fremantle 4.2 9.6 15.11 21.15 (141)
Essendon  3.2 5.3  9.8  13.9  (87)

Fremantle M Pavlich, N Suban, A Sandilands, H Ballantyne, L McPharlin
Essendon  H Slattery, N Lovett-Murray, A Davey, A Lovett, R Dyson

Article last changed on Thursday, August 27, 2009 - 10:56 AM EDT

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